What’s your relationship to Allston-Brighton?
I have worked in the neighborhood for seven years now. I grew up across the river in Cambridge so I was able to come into my work with fresh eyes and really learn and listen to those in the neighborhood. A key aspect of public health is listening for both needs and assets, and Allston-Brighton has a lot of both. I think it’s always important to keep listening, even when we have lived or worked somewhere forever.
How has Allston-Brighton changed over the years?
It has physically changed a lot, we all see it particularly in North Allston/Brighton, as well as along the Pike. All places grow and change of course, and Allston-Brighton is a neighborhood in New England’s largest city; growth comes with the territory. It can be a celebration of a place and why people want to live there. But growth and change must also be thoughtful and planned and participatory, which has not often been the case in Allston-Brighton. For years now, we have had more seats in the public schools than neighborhood children to fill them. We have a public transit system at capacity and a housing market that is responsive to the best price, not the need. This is the result of a process that is not participatory or planned.
What is Allston-Brighton’s biggest challenge with affordable housing?
Like all Boston neighborhoods, what is deemed “affordable” in Allston-Brighton is based on the area’s median income. Yet it’s been decided by the federal government that our area should include towns and communities with much higher incomes and with a history of redlining and discriminatory housing practices that prevent home ownership for Black and brown people. Meanwhile, incomes have not kept pace with inflation even as the cost of living increases. The result is housing that is not, in fact, affordable. It forces people who are looking to live and build lives locally to all compete for the small amount of housing that is in their price range, which inherently drives those prices higher. We end up losing families, talent, and people who love this community and want to to stay but can’t.
What would/does an affordable home mean for you?
I grew up very privileged and remain in a privileged position. I have a mortgage but I don’t worry about making my payments every month. When I imagine what it might feel like to not be able to afford my housing, I can feel my heart rate increase. I think about what choices I would have to make, the basic parts of my life that I might need to sacrifice in order to have what I need. I think about how unpredictable my life becomes, that I might need to find another job or live far away from my family. And that I might need to leave a community that I love and that I contribute to. This is the often unspoken-of connection to health and housing; making these kinds of choices has huge mental and physical health impacts. Not having enough money is stressful and there is an abundant amount of research connecting stress to early mortality. Having an affordable home means safety and reliability. It means communities are able to better plan for the future because their residents’ needs are met.